Dearest darlingest Momsie and Popsical: they are making a “Wicked” film adaptation.
No, not just a cool film adaptation. A cinematic version of the 2003 Tony award-winning musical Wicked. And this will not merely be one short day in the Emerald City. We cinephiles and Broadway lovers are receiving two parts: “Wicked: Part 1” with a release date of Christmas Day 2024, and “Part 2” coming out one year later.
According to Decider, director Jon M. Chu (known for films such as “In the Heights” and “Crazy Rich Asians”) has confirmed that they are in the early stages of production. He hopes to include as many songs from the original as possible and has even added one original song. The cast features Cynthia Erivo as Elphaba, Ariana Grande as Glinda, Jonathan Bailey as Fiyero, Jeff Goldblum as the Wizard of Oz, Michelle Yeoh as Madame Morrible, and Bowen Yang as Pfannee, to name a few. This cast thrills me for a number of reasons, from picturing Jeff Goldblum reprising his “Grandmaster” archetype from the MCU to Jonathan Bailey’s sexy a** boogieing through the Ozdust Ballroom to Bowen Yang just being Bowen Yang. Also, as a Gen Z Arianator, I can’t help but recall Ariana Grande’s 2012 song with MIKA titled, “Popular Song,” which holds the lyrics and melody of “Popular,” the ballad Glinda sings in “Wicked.” How full circle that she will don the pink and bubbles 12 years later!
With the release date so distant, it’s easy to wonder how “Wicked: Part 1” will fare as an up-close cinematic adaptation of such an iconic stage piece. Modern Hollywood tends to veer in favor of maximizing profits, so while Chu expressed that the choice to divide the film was acting in the interest of preserving the integrity of the original songs and scenes, one wonders if this is the sole motivation. Multipart films adapted from singular works such as “The Hobbit” and the “Hunger Games” finale “Mockingjay” received some criticism for the ways that they could have accomplished the narrative in a shorter work. Instead, filmmakers elected to make their pockets heavier and make their audiences wait for the ending.
Then there is the question of the movie musical. Will “Wicked: Part 1” send us dancing through life or will it make our very flesh begin to crawl? To answer this question, we must first answer: what makes a good movie musical? The answer lies in a balanced marriage of the “movie” and the “musical.” A well-done cinematic Broadway adaptation will let the Broadway elements shine, meaning leaving the overabundance of CGI, auto-tune, and excessive camera craze at the door. Conversely, it shouldn’t feel like they plopped a stage production in front of some cameras because there are some beautiful strengths to being able to convey a story in true movie form, but it also shouldn’t feel like the original stage version is a distant relative of the film’s outcome. Musicals on stage have captured audiences for eons because of the raw performances that are able to shine with the support of elements like set design, lighting, makeup, costumes, and so on. I think movie musicals can work much the same. When Maria trills “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” we shouldn’t be thinking “what’s with this camera angle choice?” or “this doesn’t even look like rural Austria.”
“Wicked: Part 1” has the opportunity to balance on this tightrope and give us the chilling performances we know it is capable of. In further illustration of what tactics will lend to its success, I would like to highlight some of the movie musicals I hope it will or will not emulate.
While the mood may be heavier, the 2012 Oscar-winning “Les Miserables” is a favorite of mine for several reasons. The biggest stylistic triumph of this film would be the recording of vocals while filming is actively taking place. Sure, I’ll perform a mocking impression of Russell Crowe’s nasally Javert all day long, but I would gladly rank his performance higher than any auto-tuned catastrophe from other movie musicals. Breathtaking vocal performances rest at the center of the venn diagram of the Broadway soundtrack of “Wicked” and the motion picture soundtrack of “Les Mis.” The cinematography of “Les Mis” is intimate and emotional. I would tip my hat to Jon M. Chu if he took notes from this masterpiece.
Another revered adaptation would be the 2005 film “Rent,” which took after the 1994 Broadway show. This film reprised six of its original Broadway cast members in the leading roles. This is a rare and beautiful occurrence since star power often motivates directors to think more about getting butts in seats with the buzz of a big name than preserving the integrity of the show with authentic theater-trained actors. While lesser-known stage talent fills some roles in “Wicked: Part 1,” one hopes that performers like Grande will take on a Broadway-esque approach and that Glinda won’t resemble the 34+35 music video (as much as I may love that piece of art). She has the potential to achieve this given she got her start on the Broadway musical “13” in 2008. I audibly laughed at seeing a petition circulating the internet titled “Keep James Corden Out of the ‘Wicked’ Movie” with over 100,000 signatures. Yes and amen to that. Beyond cast comparisons, I do think “Rent” has a solid cinematic style that honors its song performances, in such a way that “Wicked: Part 1” would do well to observe.
I would also like to highlight the 2002 Academy Award-winning “Chicago,” which was derived from the 1975 musical. When I think of “Chicago,” I want to smirk, throw on a flapper dress and dance the night away. When I think of the “Wicked” stage production, I want to fly off on a broomstick with Idina’s high notes emitting from my vocal cords. I truly hope the film adaptation does not elicit a wince or even a sense of passion that has disappointing qualifiers when I recollect it. A successful adaptation will bring us into the Ozian world the way that “Chicago” takes us into the world of 1920s nightlife, tabloids, and dramatized prison cells. Another admirable quality these two musicals share is the trope of deviously powerful women. The movie version of the climactic “Defying Gravity” musical number should impress similarly to “Cell Block Tango,” or perhaps even more so.
Now I must offer a bit of a negative example, to avoid something bad happening in Oz. As a lover of the original Broadway production of “Into the Woods,” the film adaptation was somewhat anticlimactic to me. The set design felt like one of the actor’s backyards with AI fairytale elements added to it. I cannot stress enough how much overuse of CGI and auto-tune doom these films. “Wicked: Part 1” is a movie, so I pray Chu invests movie-level money and effort into the set design.
Regardless of the end product, when Dec. 25, 2024, arrives, I’ll be so happy I could melt. As an avid auto-tune and CGI hater, I have sat through several live-action Disney remakes that disappointed me in those respects. However, at their core, films like the 2019 “Aladdin” still bring me joy because the mere exposure to the tune of “Prince Ali” is pleasing. I believe that I will feel similarly when I get to witness the final verse of “The Wizard and I” on the big screen in a recliner with a tub of buttered popcorn. I’m thrilled that my cinephile friends and audiences everywhere will experience this quintessential musical in such a widely accessible way. Here’s hoping we will all be changed for good.
“Wicked: Part 1” will be in theaters on Dec. 25, 2024.
By Risa Bolash